KIEV, Ukraine (Mar. 27)
On Sunday, Larisa Krivovyaz, a Jewish woman in Kiev, spent about an hour waiting to cast her ballot in Ukraine’s parliamentary elections. Krivovyaz said the voters were lining up at polling stations because “people desire change for the better.”
Whether or not those changes will take place, Jewish leaders across the political spectrum agree that this week’s voting was free and fair.
“I’m very optimistic, and I’m sure the Jewish community will be safe and well” in Ukraine, the chief rabbi of Dnepropetrovsk, Shmuel Kaminetzky, one of the most influential Jewish authorities in the country, said Monday.
A free election was something Ukraine did not have as recently as the fall of 2004, when Ukrainians rallied in the streets for days to overturn the rigged presidential victory of Viktor Yanukovich. Yanukovich’s rival, Viktor Yuschenko, later won a revote.
With 37 percent of Sunday’s votes counted, the story was reversed. Yanukovich’s pro-Russian Party of Regions, had won 27 percent of the vote and appeared likely to receive the largest share of votes.
The bloc of another ex-premier, Yulia Timoshenko, Yuschenko’s charismatic former ally, was second with 24 percent, followed by Yuschenko himself — his party, Our Ukraine, received slightly less than 17 percent.
Yuschenko’s popularity was harmed by a weak economy and the slow pace of reform during his time in office.
But it seemed likely that a coalition lead by Timoshenko and Yuschenko would be formed to head the government.
Two of the parties that had officials known as leaders in anti-Semitic propaganda received about one-half percent of the vote together — and a leading Jewish figure said this was good news for the community.
“I’m happy that marginal anti-Semitic parties have failed,” said Vadim Rabinovich, a business tycoon and the leader of the United Jewish Community of Ukraine and the All-Ukranian Jewish Congress.
But at least one Ukrainian Jewish leader is calling for any future government to do more to fight anti-Semitism in Ukraine.
“The insufficient struggle” against “xenophobia and anti-Semitism is the main problem that worries the Jewish community of Ukraine,” said Azriel Chaikin, one of Ukraine’s chief rabbis.
Yuschenko was criticized for not doing enough to stop anti-Semitism, particularly at MAUP, a Kiev-based university that regularly publishes anti-Jewish articles and organizes anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist activities.
The election will have a major impact on Ukraine’s future because of constitutional changes that went into effect earlier this year: The new Parliament, known as the Rada, will be the first in post-Communist Ukraine to name the prime minister and appoint key Cabinet members — both previously prerogatives of the president.
The Orange coalition — as the union of pro-Yuschenko parties is known — is expected to continue with Yuschenko’s free market and pro-Western policies.
Jewish candidates were on many slates, and according to estimates, there will be about 25-35 Jewish members in the next Rada, about the same number as in the current one.
Many cities had also municipal and mayoral elections on Sunday.
In two cities, Jewish mayors — Eduard Gurwitz in Odessa and Vladimir Salda in Kherson — were expected to win re-election.
In Israel, only about 500 Ukrainians out of nearly 54,000 eligible Ukrainian voters participated in the elections, according to Igor Timofeev, Ukraine’s ambassador to Israel.
For many of Ukraine’s estimated 200,000 to 300,000 Jews, many of whom are elderly, the election posed a choice between the pro-Western Orange parties, and the Party of Regions of Yanukovich, who has especially strong support in the Russian-speaking eastern provinces.
Jewish preferences mirrored those of Ukrainian citizens in general.
In western and central Ukraine, most Jewish voters are believed to have voted for Orange parties, while in eastern and southern Ukraine, they are believed to have backed Yanukovich and other opposition forces.
Jewish leaders generally agree that Jews have no reason to fear any possible coalition.
“The balance of political powers will be approximately the same. There will be no big changes,” Rabinovich said.